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Chess in School
It turns out that one of the best things we can do for our children in school is to teach them the game of chess and let them play it. Studies have shown that kids who have learned to play chess and who do play improve their learning capacity and their thinking ability, improve their school grades, and improve their behavior. That's not surprising to those of us who play the game.Abstract:
A game of chess is a series of mutual puzzles, constructed by the two players for each other's solution. At each move, a player has two tasks: First to deal with the puzzle the opponent has set for him, and second, to change the puzzle he has set for his opponent so as to create the most difficult puzzle for the opponent to solve, if possible an unsolvable puzzle that will win the game. This is a mental challenge beyond the ordinary. At the same time, chess, which nearly all children find fascinating when they're exposed to it, teaches them so many things – through experience, the most effective teacher:
If we were to make a list of traits to help a student mature and do well, we'd be hard put to come up with a better list than the traits that are taught through the game of chess. So here we are as educators; we are looking for ways to help students concentrate, to understand the value of study and the need for an unbiased view of the world, to learn thoroughness, the consequences of one's own actions, logic and analysis, solving problems, visualization, planning, honest facing of facts, creativity, "multi-tasking", responsibility, courtesy, emotional stability, sharing, patience & deferred gratification, teamwork, independence and self-reliance. And here's an activity &ndash chess &ndash that teaches all those goals. It would seem a natural that we would use the game to achieve those ends.
But ... school politics being what it is, you just don't spend your instruction time teaching a game. It doesn't teach any "facts", and facts are after all what standardized tests are after. Such tests unfortunately don't test for responsibility, thoroughness, logic, planning, creativity, multi-tasking, courtesy, stability, sharing, patience, teamwork, independence, and so forth. In other words, standardized tests don't test for any of the traits that we would like our children to learn – they test only for facts that might be good for kids to know and for specific skills in manipulating those facts. Now, I won't ask how the educational establishment decided that knowledge and employment of facts and skills is more vital to our children than the character traits mentioned above, but I will say that this assessment is dead wrong. Children become responsible and productive adults, not according to the facts they know, but according to their character.
Let me close with a few words from Benjamin Franklin. He was an avid chess player, and in his article "Morals of Chess" he spoke of the many positive character traits that may be learned from the game. A few among these:
Foresight – "If I move this piece, what will be the advantages of my new situation? What use can my adversary make of it to annoy me?"
Now, many schools have chess clubs, as they have French clubs and quilting clubs, but my point is that the game of chess has an instructional value that makes it different from most activities. That's not to say that there may not be other games or activities that have salutary effects, but a huge advantage of chess is that it already exists both as a world-wide and a local organized activity for both adults and kids. Children's chess tournaments ("scholastic tournaments," as they are called) are common, and often draw hundreds of kids. According to the US Chess Federation (USCF) 30 million American children play chess. Community chess leaders organize these tournaments, and the schools need only buy into the existing interest in order to benefit from this activity.
My proposal is that we ought to teach chess in our schools, and follow up with advanced instruction and competitive play. It will be objected that we don't have enough class time as it is, to teach the "required" subjects. My answer is that most of those subjects don't have half the educational value of the game of chess. We should recognize that learning and playing chess is an educational tool which will prepare the child better to study and learn other subjects.
The result that I'm visualizing is a student body that have been introduced to the game of chess and that – in part – have become practitioners of the game. The positive effect on student motivation, morale, abilities and socialization will be far beyond what the school can attain by traditional means. Far from shying away from chess instruction because it's a "mere game," educators should embrace it because it has been shown to give youngsters a superb grounding for their further maturation and education. – And lest one think that mine is a voice crying in the wilderness, a growing number of forward-looking countries have added chess to their school syllabus. The latest is Turkey, which with 70 million people may soon the most populous country in the European Union (they may be admitted within a couple of years). Starting in September 2005 chess will be offered in all schools in Turkey.